Marina Dieul, studio visit in Montreal, exquisite portraits in a Renaissance style

My fifth and final Montreal figurative artist studio visit was to Marina Dieul. My friend and fellow artist, Ann-Marie Brown was able to join me on this visit so we met for coffee and then trekked over to the Fabre neighborhood by Metro and foot. Ann-Marie is a very long tall drink of water and I have to march hard to keep up with her long strides and we eventually got there, only a little bit late.

Marina works from her home studio and finds this very convenient as she has a young family and also, her works are not on such a large scale as to demand a larger space. Her exquisite portraits of babies, children and even animals have won many prizes and been featured in many art magazines.

Marina is originally from the Brittany area in north western France. After fine art education in contemporary arts, she felt like she had learned nothing that was of value to her personal artistic vision. She felt at that time that there was no place in the more macho French art scene for a young woman painter who was interested in excellent, realistic rendering and drawing and she started to foray into the field of Trompel‘oil, above, which means fools the eye. She found it very difficult at the time to find good quality art supplies in France and began to take courses in useful skills of gilding, molding, sculpture, even making her own gesso as a foundation for her artistic vision.

She made an interesting discovery when failing over and over to find good art supplies and art references when searching online in French. When she switched to English, suddenly she was able to find what she was thirsting for! Somehow there is some kind of a lack in French search terms and sites. How very odd.

In 2000 she and her cabinet maker husband moved to Quebec and soon a small baby came along. As a gift for her mother, she painted a lovely painting of the baby. Friends of her parents saw this painting and asked for paintings of their own small precious bundles and the light bulb went off in Marina’s head. She painted babies and beautifully. She creates slightly fanciful little settings where the small imps hide or peek out at us from.The one small daughter was soon followed by another and life got busy. She began to connect in English with other fine portrait artists through Portrait Artist Forum A Stroke Of Genius. After six months of listening to others comment, she started to comment herself and found her community, her tribe, eventually meeting others at conferences and gatherings.

When searching for some good workshops, she found Ted Seth Jacobs in northern France. His Renaissance technique workshops were intensive 6 months sessions and that just did not fit with their young family life here in Quebec. A bit more searching brought up Studio Escalier (above) with teachers Tim Stotz and Michelle Tully, former students of Jacobs who had their own school in a small village near their master and workshops were 3 months long. Her husband supported her idea of submitting to be a student there. She was thrilled to be accepted and soon the family was all packed up and shipped off to France.

All had a marvelous time, hubby working as a cabinet maker in his home country, the girls dropped off into local village school which had just begun the Fall session and Marina in her wonderland of learning and painting. Daily 6 hours life model sessions in natural light, working up to two weeks on a portrait including the drawing, color study, under-painting and painting were the in depth approach that she was looking for. She has done two sessions there and enjoyed living there as a family on their own, away from their friends and family just 3 hours drive away in Brittany.

One day a couple of years ago, they heard some small noises coming from upstairs when the neighbors were away and so they investigated, only to find a small invasion of mice. They captured these tiny creatures and instead of releasing them right away, Marina kept them caged, drawing and photographing them in captivity. These small agile characters had melted a place in the family’s heart and so domestic mice became the family’s small fascinating pets.

She painted one for a friend’s 60th birthday and mounted it in a small gold frame she found in a second hand store. She posted the picture on her facebook Page which she uses to gauge audience reaction to new subjects. Within the day she had two offers to buy this tiny clown! Another aha moment! Her husband, the cabinet maker, made tiny round frames and Marina gilded them, backed them with her own hand marbled papers, boxed them in smart round boxes, even gilded a tiny mouse on the lid. The first set of ten became 30 and now she is up to over 80. She was thrilled when her personal idol Graydon Parrish bought two. These made charming and popular presents in the pre-Christmas present season. Fall 2012 was her second season of painting them and her goal is to paint a hundred of the tiny souls and then create a Blurb book of their images which can be available on her web site.

After the success of the mice, she began to bring in other small animals, cats, baby duck, piglet, guinea pig, even a fox, who knows where it will end? She works from live animals, photographs and taxidermy models.

Her easel and seat are set up near a window to benefit from the natural light. She doesn’t stick to one single line of paints but uses only the finest and introduces a new product line with just one tube at a time in case she just doesn’t care for the way they handle or cooperate with her other old tried and true paint tube pals.

Ann-Marie was keen to ask her about the amazing waxed paper effect that she had on some earlier baby pieces and we chatted about her experiences of participating in painting competitions like The Kingston Prize. One year she won all the People’s Choice awards but was not mentioned in any of the prizes or honorary awards. Below is the lovely piece which she had submitted. The horns she made herself and had the child wear them on a wire when she posed for the photo shoot.

In her earlier years she entered many competitions, juried shows and was featured in several magazines. She was just getting ready to submit her portfolio to a Santa Fe gallery when the gallerist suddenly called her instead! Three of his staff had noticed her work in magazines and brought her to his attention. Soon a partnership was created and she has been exhibiting with S R Brennen Galleries since then. One thing has led to another via magazines, the internet and word of mouth and she still has never had to go through the process of presenting her portfolio to a gallery.

Above is the little maquette of the string that the mouse stands on in image below it.

Between her commission, works for galleries and the occasional competition now on top of her job as a mother to girls 8 and 12, her life is a bit of a whirlwind but they still find time as a family to visit France each summer. She finds it amusing that her girls are bi-lingual in French. Of course, they undoubtedly speak English too but they can chat away in local dialect Quebecois with their friends here but can speak perfect France French at home with their parents and of course get to brush up each summer in France. One daughter suffered from pneumonia last winter and Marina was happy to be working from home or else she might have lost 10 weeks of working days to family illness.

This natty little yacht is the “price” she paid recently to her younger daughter to get her pose (yet again) for her. It was a tough negotiation and this jaunty little yacht lives near the bathtub ocean where I’m sure it gets good use. Her daughter has been posing for her since birth and because they are both so familiar with each other, she knows exactly what her mother wants and so their modeling sessions are kept to a very short time. It’s so important to know exactly what you want from any model, but especially children and animals because they may tire easily and then the whole shoot may not deliver what the artist has been aiming for. It might lead to other interesting poses and attitudes but maybe not the intended. In any event, working with a live model is always a collaborative process.

Marina is represented by S R Brennen Galleries, Santa Fe where she is having a solo show in June 2013. Thanks Marina for opening your home and studio up to two curious fellow artists.
Marina Dieul

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